Junk Food Injunction- Latest Edition
In this edition we feature an article by guest writer Andrea Western on regulatory changes in Chile including regulation on food advertising to children. We showcase three studies highlighting the effect of advertising on children: a study on Australian children's attachments to major brands, an investigation of the effect of brand characters, and a look inside the brain as children watch ads. We also feature several articles on digital marketing practices and take a look at counter-marketing lessons from tobacco.
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By Andrea Western, Senior Policy Advisor, LiveLighter WA
In June 2016, Chile became a world leader in anti-obesity regulation, enacting laws that address three key areas – front of pack labelling, advertising to children and sale of unhealthy foods in children's settings.
Article 5 of the new Chilean law requires that all foods high in saturated fat, salt, sugar and/or calories feature a stop-sign warning label (one for each applicable nutrient). This definition of 'unhealthy foods' is then applied to the regulation of advertising, with Articles 6, 7 and 8 prohibiting advertising and promotion of stop-sign labelled foods to children.
The Chilean ban applies to any form of marketing, communication, recommendation, propaganda, information or action intended to promote the consumption of a product. The law also encompasses practices that take advantage of children's natural credulity, such as use of gifts, contests, toys, games and stickers, and there have been suggestions that it applies to the use of cartoons, characters or animals on product packaging. Importantly, the law extends to advertising that does not relate to a product, such as brand advertising and sponsorship.
Directed to Children
In Chile, an advertisement is considered directed to children where 20% or more of the audience are children under the age of 14. Other factors taken into consideration include use of animated characters, children's voices, cartoons, toys, children's music, animals, child figures and depictions of situations common to a child's daily life, such as school.
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As a measure of brand equity and intention to purchase, researchers in Australia, assessed 10-16 year old children's perceptions of 14 different food brands via an online survey. Brands included 'healthier' and less healthy and child-oriented and not child-oriented. Large numbers of young children rated McDonald's as 'cool', 'exciting' and 'fun' and perceived Cadbury, KFC and Red Rooster to be 'cool'. Those who watched more commercial television per week were more likely to perceive Coca Cola as 'cool'. When asked about what they thought about people who used each brand, younger children rated users of McDonald's, Mars and Cadbury as more popular and users of KFC as more sporty. When asked to imagine that each brand was a person, 74% said that Coca Cola would be popular and 68% said outgoing. The three healthier brands were in the bottom five brands in terms of popularity and whether other children would make friends with them.
This study has implications for food marketing regulation as even brands thought of as more adult brands e.g. Red Rock Deli chips were seen to be cool and exciting. Regulation needs to broadly cover junk food and not concentrate on only children's food. The researchers warn that effective regulation needs to protect children from the persuasive effect of both product and brand marketing.
Kelly B, Freeman B, King L, Chapman K, Baur LA, Gill T. The normative power of food promotions: Australian children's attachments to unhealthy food brands. Public Health Nutrition 2016
Children prefer foods with characters on the pack. Brand equity characters are the company-owned characters associated with individual products and featured on the packaging and in advertising. In a new study, researchers in UK offered 4-8 year olds pairs of snacks (cheesestrings, potato snacks and a Coco pops snack bar) with one of each pair having a brand equity character on the pack. In one phase of the study the snacks had the correct character on it while in the next phase the characters did not match the snack. The majority of children chose the food with the character on it when asked which they would prefer as a snack. This affect was carried over into the snacks that were not associated with the particular character. This study shows that regulation to protect children from junk food marketing should include brand characters as well as licenced characters.
McGale LS, Halford JCG, Harrold JA, Boyland EJ. The influence of brand equity characters on children's food preferences and choices. The Journal of pediatrics 2016
Children make faster, more impulsive decisions and place more importance on taste after watching food ads. This could make it more difficult for parents to encourage them to make healthy food choices in an environment of unregulated food marketing. That's the conclusion of a study that used magnetic resonance imaging to scan 8-14 year old's brains while making food choices. This study adds to the evidence of the influence of ads for junk foods on vulnerable children.
Bruce AS, Pruitt SW, Ha OR, Cherry JB, Smith TR, Bruce JM, et al. The influence of televised food commercials on children's food choices: evidence from ventromedial prefrontal cortex activations. The Journal of pediatrics 2016
A new report from WHO highlights the emerging prominence of children's exposure to digital advertising. The report says that digital marketing amplifies traditional media, achieving greater brand awareness, positive brand attitudes and intent to purchase. Digital marketing is concerning because it can integrate ads into engaging and entertaining content and can be targeted through sophisticated analytics. There is presently little to protect children from this.
The report recommends State regulation to acknowledge a duty to protect children from digital marketing of junk foods and this could involve extension of existing offline protection. However, rather than being left to commercial interests, it recommends member states define marketing directed to children" and regulation should be accompanied by serious sanctions.
An Irish Heart Foundation study looking at the content of food brand websites and Facebook pages pointed out that unlike TV advertising, digital ads are targeted, therefore parents and policy makers are not aware of "who is feeding our kids online". They also asked parents about online food marketing and found they were unaware, particularly of its engagement techniques, but they considered many of them misleading. The report recommends closing loopholes in current Irish regulation of food marketing to children and extending it to include digital media.
Meanwhile, in October several non-profit groups in the US lodged a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission asking for an investigation into targeted "influencer" marketing toward children via Youtube and other digital platforms. They say children are not able to distinguish the use of celebrities to talk about toys and junk food as advertising and this practice is unfair and deceptive.
World Health Organization 2016 Tackling food marketing to children in a digital world: trans-disciplinary perspectives WHO Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagan, Denmark
As the effect of diet-related chronic diseases grows towards that of tobacco, it is useful to reflect on progress in tobacco control. The CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute has summarised eight elements from tobacco counter-marketing that we could learn from to reduce the effects of junk food. The report highlights a range of junk food counter-marketing campaigns and their tactics, from communicating the health consequences to exposing the motives of industry to engaging the public. It’s exciting to work in this area and to see how creative others are in countering the better financed, harmful messaging.